Infesticons :: Gun Hill Road :: Big Dada Recordings
as reviewed by Oli Standing

Let me quote from the sticker on the case; "The Infesticons are: Mike Ladd, Company Flow, Saul Williams, Anti-Pop Consortium and an army of thousands." I've got to admit, I got pretty excited reading that. I knew The Infesticons were basically Mike Ladd and friends, but what friends! Saul Williams, APC and Co Flow must be three of my top five favourite underground acts. I also knew that the Infesticons were supposed to be dope and that the lead single I'd heard ("Hero Theme") was a piece of aural genius, 11 out of 10, a weird but funky, funny but classic song.

This album came out a good five or six months ago, so how come I'm only just reviewing it now? And how come I rarely listen to it? Have you ever heard a rap track with an appalling beat, a rapper who sounds like your granddad and some vague scratching noises that sound like windshield wipers, and liked it? I'd answer yes. It might sound stupid but what I'm trying to say is that hip-hop is not just the sum of it's parts, it needs something else; cohesion or vision perhaps.

The music I mentioned should, by all rights, be unlistenable, but something about it (maybe it's the obvious enthusiasm of the MC, or the way the whole record is so poor it's good) means it's fun to listen to. It's becomes more than the sum of it's parts. But "Gun Hill Road" is not like that at all, in fact it's the very reverse. Let's consider the ingredients; talented musicians by the bucketload, and an amusing concept. "The Infesticons have for generations fought to combat jiggyness and glamifacation with truth and the essence of the regular cat. Now they face the ultimate challenge, the battle for Gun Hill Road. This is the recording of the brutal fight."

For all you Americans and others who know not, Big Dada is a pretty avant-garde label with a good rep. Roots Manuva, TY, New Flesh and others are on it). And the outcome? Well, good but mixed. I've been about as clear as mud so far, but what I'm saying is that this record is more like multiple tracks than a single album. It doesn't gel, some tracks are good, some are not. It's like trying to build a house from a couple of bricks, a few planks and a few stones. The individual materials might be solid (although in this case we can't assume that anyway) but is the house going to look dope when it's made from incompatible materials? No, of course not.

Enough bullshit, what about the music? Ok, here it is. I mentioned "Hero Theme" and might add to the previous compliments that it is an example of the perfect single. It has jubilant beat with snappy drums and funky keys. It's extremely up-beat and has an epic feel to it that really makes you sit up and think "Damn, today is a good day after all." Mike Ladd produces, and Mike Ladd rhymes. When I said of Blak Twang there aren't many MC's who can make high-class beats to rap over, I hadn't accounted for Ladd. "Hero Theme" demonstrates that Ladd has the ability, at least sometimes. The purpose of singles, surely, is to persuade the average head on the street to buy the album, and I confess, it worked 100% on me. "Precious Theme" may be the second best track on the record though. It is performed by Creature, Canaan and Mike Ladd. Creature spits summin' wicked on this;

"Label's rosters reek of mediocrity
What if you disappear with that policy of hypocrisy?
And fools say, 'Why you hating on me?'
They call me a mad rapper/backpacker
I want to expose the actress or actor
Plus my finger got a message for the self-righteous slacker
I'm not a bohemian stuck on some avant-garde shit
Or a ghetto vulture raping Tupacs and Biggies carcass
It's a label which is offensive and abrasive
Whilst a lot of today's music is soulless and tasteless"

I've not heard Creature before but he has a cool voice and great flow. If a bull were human and an underground rapper, he might sound like Creature. The beat is a strident sort of electronic synth sound, a la Anti-Pop Consortium. Ladd himself drops an excellent verse later.

"Shampoo Theme" proves the album has variety if nothing else. It is produced by Ladd, who rhymes on this one too. The beats sound like one of those music boxes which have a lift up lid and a twirling ballerina. Ladd rhymes in a sing-songish voice that suits the surreal, almost childish sound. He urges us to "sit back, relax and sniff life's bouquet."

Fans of Mr. Williams might be a little disappointed by what he offers here. It's mostly the same lyrics from "Om Nia Merican" on his Amethyst Rock Star album. Here they are put over crashing drums like the ocean and more synth funk. The beat is fat but the rhymes sound a bit anaemic and out of place, especially when compared to the fire of the original. In all his appearance seems a bit token here, like he phoned in some lyrics just so his name could appear on the front of the record.

"Church Theme" is boring to be frank. The beat consists of clipped drums and some atonal electronic whines. Ladd almost talks over it. "Night Night Theme" on the other hand is quite good. This features El-P from Co Flow, although he is credited as Madashellicon. El-P drops his normal science and Ladd sounds good too. Quarterback is the APC track, although it lacks the rhymes of M Sayyid, and is pretty good too. The Ladd beat could easily be an Earl Blaze one and has priest and beans shout out random numbers by way of a chorus. If verbal agility was an indicator of physical ability then priest and beans (not to mention the absent M Sayyid) would be those really small monkeys, gibbons maybe, dancing along the slimmest flimsiest branches of the tree tops. Mike Ladd is pretty damn agile himself, maybe a chimp in this analogy; not like APC or the Quannum Crew. Surely some of the most underrated MC's ever, but far above the lumbering gorillas and orang-utans that are the Ja Rule's and P. Diddy's of this world.

So, why exactly have I talked about rhyming bulls and monkeys, not to mention MC's like your granddad? I'll try to summarise, and be clear. This album could have better if it had a little more cohesion. Most of the songs individually are good, and one is really top drawer, but don't stick together as an album as well as it could have. Maybe there are just too many talented and individualist people working here. What is it they say about cooks and broth?

Y'all might be surprised by the scores I give this record, but remember that I am assessing individually the music and rapping. And, of course, I have to face the fact that it could just be that I'm just not feeling this album as I should be. If you like the artists involved then you will probably love this regardless of my one opinion amongst thousands. Oh, and any record that has the line "cars have penis envy of aeroplanes" can't be ALL bad.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: October 29, 2002